Experienced local hikers tend to save Long Canyon hiking for the summer months. The mature high-desert forest of Pinion, Juniper, Cypress, and Ponderosa Pine, combined with the deep-cut creek bed and steep canyon walls, usually guarantee a cool hike on a hot day.
Winter's arrival, though, can change these deep canyons in ways that shouldn't be missed. The air is clearer; trees have shed their leaves, and the ground greenery retreats to a fraction of its summer exuberance. As the foliage drops away, Long Canyon can become even more beautiful. So, in search of a "hot" hike on a cold day, Hike Leaders Tom Blecha and Paula Potter recently led a group of Saturday "Roughrider" hikers to experience Long Canyon from a different perspective.
The Long Canyon Trail is easily accessed off Dry Creek Road, near the entrance to the Seven Canyons complex. It offers a 7.5 mile out-and-back hike with 1000 feet of elevation gain. The first mile of the trail follows an old jeep road and offers views of Prayer Rock and Mescal Mountain, and a few peeks at the Seven Canyons Golf Course. Much like Boynton Canyon, Long Canyon had been an important spiritual and settlement area for generations of Sinaguans, and also figured prominently in the local history of the Yavapai. Sedona legend has it that the Yavapai, furious over the building of Seven Canyons, placed a curse on the part of the Canyon surrounding the development. Hedging our bets, the Westerner hikers always tread lightly and respectfully through this area.
After a mile of hiking there is a well-signed area that marks the intersection with the Deadmans Trail, and all bicycle traffic must turn here to avoid entering the Wilderness. From here, the hiking trail gradually ascends into
the heart of the Canyon, where cliffs and spires of Schnebly Hill sandstone tower over the trail. It was a COLD day, and the Hike Leaders kept up a brisk pace to keep the group from getting surly. A few forward-thinking hikers had brought along individual thermoses with hot coffee or cider, and this fanned the flames of jealousy that helped keep the rest of the group warm. To further distract the hikers from the biting wind and cold, Hike Leaders Blecha and Potter provided delicious treats along the way.
Hiking the trail without its summer camouflage revealed extraordinary vistas to our group, but it also can reveal much about this ancient canyon's current and future health. Some Westerner members have been hiking Long Canyon for twenty-five years. Some members even helped build the Long Canyon Trail, and their keen eyes and experience tell them that this area is continually threatened by change. Development continues at Seven Canyons, and there are legitimate concerns about the effect this may have on Long Canyon's wildlife and water table. Increasingly heavy use of the trail results in destruction of Crypto biotic soil, the concoction of lichen, moss, and bacteria that forms a delicate but effective superstructure for plant growth in the sandy soil. Inconceivably, litter and graffiti happen.
The Westerner Hikers enjoyed a fantastic hike through Long Canyon. Clear Winter days can provide new looks at familiar places, and remind us that cold weather is not the only challenge facing the fragile treasures that surround us here in Sedona.
If you are interested in joining the club, please go to our website at http://sedonawesterners.org or just come to one of our monthly meetings. The next one will be on Thursday, Jan 9, 2014 at 7PM at the Sedona Elks Club, 110 Airport Road.